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CPAC shuffle all for naught until MoE takes action

There’s something of a re-arranging-the-deckchairs feel to Woolwich’s latest mucking about with the Chemtura Public Advisory Committee (CPAC). That’s accompanied by a slightly bitter taste of appeasement.

In order to get both the chemical company – ironically avoiding its namesake committee – and the Ministry of the Environment – inexplicably ignoring pollutants in the environment – back at the table, the township proposes to yet again revamp the citizens’ watchdog group. In doing so, it essentially removes both the citizen and the watchdog component.

CPAC will be replaced by two new groups, the Remediation Advisory Committee (RAC) and a Technical Advisory Group (TAG). It appears the former, while ostensibly a public forum, will be long on bureaucrats and politicians. The latter will provide some element of citizen participation, but without any public input.

Credit or blame lies with Mayor Sandy Shantz. She wanted Chemtura and the MoE to return to the table, so gave them what they needed to do just that: less angry public, more “respectful” bureaucracy. And, let’s be frank, less Alan Marshall, the very vocal thorn in many sides.

This is not the first time CPAC has been tweaked to make Marshall less of a factor, whether his removal from the committee itself, to former mayor Todd Cowan’s first wooing and then rejecting the longtime environmental gadfly.

It’s no secret both Chemtura and the ministry took exception to Marshall’s continued involvement at CPAC meetings, even just as a private citizen. Nor has Marshall made friends with Woolwich council – make what you will of his request this week for an audit of Shantz’s election finances.

The revisions to CPAC are heavy with the scent of a workaround to keep Marshall at a distance – the aforementioned appeasement, if you will.

Will the changes be for the better? Worse? Indifferent? It could be any one of those, though in the end it may be largely irrelevant. That’s not to say the committee’s work isn’t important: Chemtura is obligated to remediate the groundwater it contaminated, and it must be held accountable for its past transgressions. Part of CPAC’s job is to keep an eye on the situation.

Removing some of the distractions – soap opera-like at times – may be helpful. Certainly meetings should run more smoothly, with a good chance of more leisurely noshing and coffee-drinking among likeminded folks. But it remains to be seen if the new format will be any more successful at dealing with the very real problems, which extend beyond the increasingly unlikely concept of removing all contaminants from the aquifers under Elmira by 2028.

There’s really just one thing that has to change: will the MoE step up and do a detailed study of the contaminants on the site and force the company to clean them all up? Thus far, it’s shown no interest in doing that, perplexing given its mandate to protect the environment – a shortcoming that’s responsible for some of Marshall’s most colourful outbursts, but the concerns about who the ministry is really working for extend to many more people, many of whom have been involved in the cause since the groundwater crisis arose more than a quarter-century ago.

Without real action on the part of the one player with any clout – the township has no regulatory power, and can’t even get its questions acknowledged, let alone answered, by the province – we’re simply rolling the chaise lounge around as the ship of state takes on water.

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